No less than 78 percent of Canadians say they are more likely to buy a product or service from a company that has a policy of hiring people with disabilities than a company that doesn't. And 86 percent of Canadians believe a person with a disability would be more loyal than the average employee. So says a national survey on disability and accessibility issues in the workforce, sponsored by the Job Opportunity Information Network (JOIN) and conducted by COMPAS Research.
JOIN is a Toronto-based organization that brings employers and people with disabilities together. COMPAS is a regular research partner to organizations like the Financial Post and CanWest media. Commissioned in the summer of 2008 and conducted via telephone interviews with over 600 Canadians from coast to coast, the survey broke ground when it came to gathering data on Canadian attitudes towards the employment of workers with disabilities.
Respondents were asked questions that measured everything from their awareness of disability access legislation to their feelings about corporate priorities. As it turns out, despite the media blitz on global warming, some Canadians still believe companies should put accessibility issues before the environment (34 to 33 percent). But the survey also found that 27 percent of Canadians believe that companies have done the opposite and put the most effort into protecting the environment (16 percent believed that companies put the most effort into accommodating customers and employees with disabilities). And respondents asserted by a 10 to 1 margin that society gives too low a priority to helping individuals with disabilities.
"The results point to the fact there must be a better balance between environmental stewardship and improved accessibility and employment opportunities for people with disabilities," says JOIN Chairperson Susan Howatt. "We want to preserve our environment for the benefit of all Canadians, but we must also be aware that one of the greatest challenges facing our country today is the shortage of skilled workers and an aging population. People with disabilities represent the greatest untapped human resource pool in Canada, and they deserve a chance to make a meaningful contribution to society."
A shift in employer attitudes towards that untapped resource may be helped by a greater and personal sensitivity among Canadians to the challenges faced by those with disabilities. Of those surveyed, 62 percent had a friend, neighbor, co-worker or acquaintance with a disability they saw at least once or twice a year. 47 percent of those surveyed had someone in their immediate or extended family with a disability.
As current conditions stand, 88 percent of Canadians believe that it's more difficult for a person with a disability to find a job, than for someone without. A Statistics Canada report on unemployment agrees, finding that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is five times higher than for those without. But rewards are looming for the companies willing to buck that trend. JOIN reports that Canadians with disabilities directly represent a purchasing power of $25 billion per year. They have further influence beyond that on the spending habits of three to four other Canadians each, and as a potential talent pool, they represent 24 percent of the population.
JOIN believes figures like this show the purchasing power and overall economic influence of people with disabilities extends well beyond themselves. Companies looking to take in larger profits can't ignore those kinds of figures, and JOIN is hoping this survey will help bring that message home. jp